Monday, November 24, 2008

The World Turned Upside Down

The NY Times had a story the other day about the growing trend among Americans of Indian decent to return to India. This has of course always happened to some degree, but what strikes one is the number of wealthy and highly skilled people doing it and more importantly their reasons. Many see more economic opportunity and increasingly even basic stability and security in India.

This strikes against the deepest mythology held by most people in the world, that we are the land of economic opportunity and social stability. Even more scary is that the world economy is so intertwined with this belief and America so dependent on it that even small cracks in it would have a devastating effect. Remember that our country needs to import billions of dollars a day in new foreign loans and investment to finance it's debts.

The motivations seem like those that brought so many people here, only now they are reversed.

"Pessimism crept into the sunniest nation. A vast majority saw America going astray. Books heralded a “Post-American World.” Even in the wake of a historic presidential election, culminating in a dramatic change in direction, it remained unclear whether the United States could be delivered from its woes any time soon.

“In the U.S., there’s a crisis of confidence,” said Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman of Infosys Technologies, the Indian software giant. “In India,” he added, “for the first time after decades or centuries, there is a sense of optimism about the future, a sense that our children’s futures can be better than ours if we try hard enough.”

Dovetailing with this phenomenon is that millions of native born Americans are making similar decisions to pursue life abroad, for political reasons or to stretch out limited retirement savings, escape taxes or chase greater opportunities.

"But if the government is not counting, others are. Estimates made by organizations such as the Association of Americans Resident Overseas put the number of nongovernment-employed Americans living abroad anywhere between 4 million and 7 million, a range whose low end is based loosely on the government's trial count in 1999. Focusing on households rather than individuals (and excluding households in which any member has been sent overseas either by the government or private companies), a series of recent Zogby polls commissioned by New Global Initiatives, a consulting firm, yielded surprising results: 1.6 million U.S. households had already determined to relocate abroad; an additional 1.8 million households were seriously considering such a move, while 7.7 million more were "somewhat seriously" contemplating it. If the data collected in the seven polls conducted between 2005 and 2007 are fairly representative of the current decade, then, by a modest estimate, at least 3 million U.S. citizens a year are venturing abroad. More interesting, the biggest number of relocating households is not those with people in or approaching retirement but those with adults ranging from 25 to 34 years old."

Will new reasons emerge like real fear of a collapsing economy and currency dramatically losing it's purchasing power? This is actually the first major economic downturn we have experienced in the post Soviet world of expanded global options.

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